Tales by the Fire

A game for 3-5 players, the stone and the fire.

You are hunters. It is 30.000 years ago. You have walked all day without spotting prey. You are tired and worried. You must tell tales by the fire. 

Prehistoric cave painting at the  Petta kere cave in the Leang-leang Prehistoric Park (Maros regency in South Sulawesi, Indonesia).  These hand stencils belong to the Mesolithic  Toalean ( Tolian) culture (6000BC to 500AD). Photo:  Sanjay P. K. (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Prehistoric cave painting at the Petta kere cave in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. These hand stencils belong to the Mesolithic Toalean (Tolian) culture (6000BC to 500AD). Photo: Sanjay P. K. (Flickr/Creative Commons).

The fire can be represented by a simple candle. If you are outside in the woods, you can build a fire (if the season and local laws permits). 

If you need food during the game: no processed foods. Fruit, berries, dried meat, nuts. There is no cheese or bread. If you need drink, there’s water in a stream nearby.

Give each other names. Names foreign to your own tongue. When you are given a name, explain what it means.

You are hunters. Far from home. Back there, those who cannot hunt and those who have other responsibilities wait. This winter, they depend on your safe return. They are all the other human beings you know of.

Language is new, it has great power. Be careful what you say, which words you choose for the tale. It’s better to wait for the right words than to babble like a stream. Words create ripples, like a stone cast in a lake. They conjure images. Bind spirits. Wake powers.

There is taboo. There is the sacred. Be careful, but brave.

If someone uses the wrong words, make sounds. Hiss. Grunt. Maybe you have to shout or roar, to drive the badness off.

If the right words are used, nod and smile. Say “mm”, “oo”, “aa”.

Pick up a stone from the ground. Whoever holds the stone has entered the tale. This takes great courage. You are the hunters. You are brave. The stoneholder keeps her eyes closed while telling the others what she sees. But the others are not passive. They make sounds. Ask questions.

The stone is passed on to the next hunter when the time is right. Take your time telling. This is important.

Remember you have walked all day, and not spotted prey. Remember there is terrible darkness on the horizon. Remember that the whole of human society depends on you.

Nude Woman (Venus of Willendorf), c. 28,000-25,000 B.C.E., Limestone, 4 1/4" high (Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna), photo: Steven Zucker  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Nude Woman (Venus of Willendorf), c. 28,000-25,000 B.C.E., Limestone, 4 1/4″ high (Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna), photo: Steven Zucker
(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The hunter holding the stone closes her eyes. You begin humming together, to let the stoneholder enter the tale. Finding the same frequency. Adding sounds. Using vowels. Humming. Then the song dies down.

All tales begin by asking the stoneholder: “what do you see?” She need not answer at once. Maybe the question has to be repeated by you all. In one voice. Imploring, begging. The tale is important. It will help the hunt.

As the stoneholder relates, the other hunters may ask questions. “Where are you?” “Why did…?” “Who enters?” “What does it say?”. The stoneholder may or may not answer, taking her time telling.

The stone is passed to the next hunter when the time is right.

During Tales by the Fire, beings and spirits from the tale have been known to escape, and enter a hunter who holds no stone. It is rare, but it happens. The entity will speak with the hunter’s tongue. Grin with his mouth. Stare with his eyes.

These beings have great power. It is important to listen and treat them with respect. Until they have said their piece and are ready to leave.

Tales by the Fire is dangerous, but important to the hunt. It is something we must do.

The tale is over when the fire burns out, or when one of you decides it’s time to put out the fire.

Inspired by: What is a Roleplaying Game by Epidiah Ravachol and recent conversations.

Thanks to Torgny, Vivian and others for feedback.

Photo:  Craig Kohtz (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Photo: Craig Kohtz (Flickr/Creative Commons).

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